Week 06

Freedom Has Boundaries

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. Romans 14:19,20

The Declaration of Independence uses a phrase that has become ubiquitous in the minds of most Americans. John Locke declares that human beings have the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This idea of inalienable rights is the backbone of the United States. It is rooted in the prioritization of personal freedom. The American experiment has proven to be one of the healthiest political frameworks in history. It has produced a country where human thriving is generally higher than in many other places. It has also served as a template for many other first-world countries.

One of the reasons the United States has been a dominant force politically, economically, and socially is its emphasis on freedom. With that said, freedom can go too far. The way of Jesus also prioritizes freedom, but Jesus does so in the context of love. The gospel is the ultimate liberation of bondage to sin and death; it is an invitation to maximum freedom, but the law of love also limits it. Paul’s writings have challenged societies throughout history to find the balance between personal freedom and love. When does our freedom begin to damage others?

Take a moment to thank God for the freedom he has given you. The kingdom of God is a highly free place. You are free from sin, death, and shame. You are free from condemnation, fear, and punishment. Now, is there anywhere in your life where your personal preference or freedom is unloving towards another person? Love is the boundary of your freedom, and even that is a gift from God.

Freedom Has Boundaries2022-10-15T12:01:07-06:00

Relationship – the Point of Freedom

Our text this week is I Corinthians 8 and 9. In those chapters Paul dodges through some complex thoughts about what our freedom in Christ should look like in the community of faith he calls us to experience. To pull Paul’s thoughts together, let’s go back to Genesis and capture the simplicity God had in mind from the beginning:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 3:15-17

Can you imagine the freedom God provided? He issued just one, and only one, very observable command. Once the first couple crossed that boundary – boundaries, and the penalties that accompanied them proliferated like aphids in the summer.

Disobeying the one command resulted in a profoundly inescapable impact – severing their intimate relationship with God. That severance likewise interrupted and negatively affected relationships among human beings from that time onward. We see and experience the wreckage every day.

In I Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul reflects on the complexity of moving away from a world gnarled in broken relationships to a community of faith that is searching for ways to love one another. In his letter to the Romans, Paul returns to the simplicity of Jesus’ answer to those questions
(from Matthew 22:36-37, Mark 12:28-30, Luke 10:25-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Leviticus 19:18 ) when Jesus was asked which commandment is the greatest in the Law:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10 NIV

Turning to Jesus and acknowledging that his death, burial and resurrection was for us, restores our relationship with God and infuses us with power to mend and prevent broken human relationships, especially within the community of faith.

Take a minute to refocus on this ‘main thing’ in your walk with Christ. Ask him to remind you that you have the freedom and power of his Holy Spirit when faced with temptations to harm your neighbor in an attempt to exercise and protect your own interests. Choose this “freedom”.

Relationship – the Point of Freedom2022-10-15T11:52:10-06:00

Who is Weak and Who is Strong?

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Romans 14:1-3 NIV

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
I Corinthians 8:7-9 NIV

Paul used various terms in his letter to the Corinthians to express the differences between the new, young, infant, weak believers and the mature, strong, adult, believers. Who are the weak believers and who are the strong?

We must remember when reading I Corinthians that it was one of Paul’s first letters to any church. Many of the believers in Corinth were mere babies in their Christian faith. The entire church was only 3 years old, so everyone was only 3 years or less into their faith journey. A few were mature in their faith but most Corinthian church members were very new to the concepts Paul was teaching.

Let’s think about an example with young children learning math or reading. Both require learning the basics before going on to the more complicated concepts. It is helpful to teach rules that apply most of the time – to guide these young, immature learners. But, as they learn and grow in an understanding of math and literature, exceptions to the rules become more common. A young child often can’t understand or even tolerate anything that is out of order, or done differently from the way their parents or their first teacher taught them. As children grow, mature and develop, they learn that sometimes there is more than one acceptable way to do things.

A young or weak Christian in Corinth might have viewed eating meat sacrificed to idols as being the worst kind of sin. A mature Christian in Corinth would recognize, “food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” I Corinthians 8:8. The mature Christian understands some behaviors are addressed specifically in scripture and others are not. A mature Christian will look at Jesus’ teaching, pray, consider and decide what is the correct behavior for himself in those areas not specified in Scripture.

In 2022 in Littleton Colorado, food sacrificed to idols is not a problem we contend with, but there are other questions we have to face:

How will we as a family deal with Halloween?
Is drinking alcohol okay for me or for my children?
How will we worship God?
How will we observe Sabbath?

Think about a “questionable” behavior; look in scripture, pray, and ask God to direct your behavior concerning that “questionable” behavior. Strive to respond as a mature believer would.

Who is Weak and Who is Strong?2022-10-15T10:20:50-06:00

What is Freedom?

But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
I Corinthians 8:7-9 NIV

The Corinthian church had many young Christians. Those of Jewish background probably advocated that all Christians should observe the Jewish dietary laws. Paul taught them that as Christians they no longer needed to follow dietary laws. Those of a pagan background perhaps had no issues whatsoever in what they ate, not caring if foods sold in the general market place had previously been offered on a pagan altar.

Similar to how a young child acts, often a new or young Christian may seek to “follow the rules” to keep himself from offending God or other believers. A more mature Christian will look to God, His word, and his own conscience to determine his actions, and will understand that some behaviors are spelled out in scripture, and others are not. A strong Christian will know that we have freedom from following the Jewish law, but that we don’t want to abuse that freedom, as Peter tells us:

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2:16 NIV

Paul covers this topic in even more depth in Romans 14-15, and in Galatians 5. Paul also talks of our need to love each other in Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

Paul recommends that the young Christian let God determine the rules in his life. He also instructs the mature Christian to not look down on the weak brother, but instead to take the other’s “weakness” into account, to not flaunt one’s own freedom in Christ, but instead to curb behavior as needed to show love, to put someone else first – in order to build that younger Christian up, rather than tear him or her down. Which have you been doing? How should you respond this week in situations you face? Look at the passages mentioned above and ask God to show you what you need to change in yourself.

What is Freedom?2022-10-15T09:56:57-06:00

Slaves to What or Who?

In my Google search on the word, “slave”, I found that it is a Greek word, “doulos”, which has only one English translation “slave” and means, “to be owned by someone for a lifetime”.

Don’t you know when you offer yourself to someone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:16-23 NIV

When Paul wrote about slaves to the Corinthian church, they understood what he meant. In my research I found there were more slaves in Corinth than there were people who had legal rights. Some people became slaves because they owed a debt to the person, others were captives from Roman victories, and others were born into slavery. The Corinthian church was a composite of people who were legal citizens and people who were slaves or servants. Paul used the term “slaves” to explain the difference between “belonging to God in obedience to their Master, Jesus Christ”, or “continuing to live in the way they did before they came to believe in Him” – i.e., not growing in obedience to the way of righteousness and holiness.

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he was writing to every person who had come to faith in Jesus Christ, not only citizens with rights, but also slaves. He reminded them at the beginning of his letter who they were in the Lord Jesus Christ, as individuals and as a community. And he gave thanks to God for all they had been given in Christ to enable them to live in faith and obedience. (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

I am grateful for these scripture reminders to us in the 21st century.

Recently I read about a couple who were celebrating 60 years of marriage. When asked how they managed to stay committed to each other for so many years, the husband said that they chose to remember the vows they had taken before God and witnesses at their wedding. Indeed, they had displayed them where they could be reminded of them as they walked closely with the Lord and each other in the ups and downs of life.

“They chose to remember” is what grabs me. And I have the written word of God to remind me of who I belong to and the help he has given me to be about what He has called me to do.

Take time this week with each of the coming devotionals to spend time with the Lord listening to him as he enables you to grow in obedience to his loving commands. Praying for a blessed week for each of you.

Slaves to What or Who?2022-10-14T08:04:41-06:00

Join in Corporate Worship

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV

December 1984, I traveled with many young people I had known from my church youth group to Urbana Illinois for a college missions conference called “Urbana ‘84”. At that time Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a college campus ministry, put this mission conference on every 3 years. Several famous Christian speakers including Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliott and Luis Palau attended. We students listened to these inspirational speakers, visited the exhibit hall and had one on one conversations with representatives of many different mission organizations. The idea behind Urbana ’84 was to get the 18,000 college students who attended, fired up and involved in the various opportunities for spreading the gospel throughout the world.

I attended a state university, so this was a unique opportunity for me to spend a week among other fellow Christian college students. My mind was expanded to think of the various ways we can all be involved in missions.

For me, the greatest impact was in our corporate singing. Most of us would arrive 30 minutes early at the large arena (holding 17,000 people), just so we could ensure we could get a seat and so we could participate in the corporate worship. This conference was so big not everyone could fit in each session; (1000 people had to watch on TV in overflow rooms). The singing, the blending of harmonies, the a cappella voices of 17,000 people singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” is an experience I will never forget and probably will never experience again this side of heaven.

The corporate singing was the highlight of this conference for me. Something a bit intangible happens when we sing together. It can happen with 5 people, 20, 100 or 17,000. But when we worship and sing together, we, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as [we] sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in [our] hearts to God,” Colossians 3:16. As we experience God’s presence, we are involved in teaching and learning God’s truth together when we sing together.

I encourage you to join in corporate worship this Sunday. Don’t focus on hitting the correct note; instead, worship God together with others, declare His goodness, praise Him for what He has done, and express your faith in His ability to work in our lives in the future.

Join in Corporate Worship2022-08-13T15:06:46-06:00

Worship as Warfare

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
‭‭Joshua‬ ‭6:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Worship is more than singing. And, worshipful singing is more than a beautiful sound.

When we minimize worship to a few pre-planned songs on Sunday mornings, we strip corporate singing of all its power and authority.

Take the walls of Jericho for example. God specifically instructed the band to lead the battle against Jericho – not as just a mysterious miracle but as a teachable moment. That day the people of Israel had to surrender their best laid strategies, their independent longings for control, and their national reputation in God’s story.

In one day, they marched together seven times around the city walls as a symbol of unity and completion.

Worship became their weapon – not because it held power in and of itself but because of the process of surrendering their lives corporately and completely to the one in whom they worship.

Our corporate worship holds the same potential.

We can mark off territory for God through worship as we surrender more of ourselves to him. It’s the most powerful display of giving God full authority over our hearts and lives!

Singing together is not just an act of bringing a multitude of voices together to make a melodic sound. Singing together marks off greater territory for God’s kingdom in our hearts, our families, and our communities. Today, sing throughout your house to mark off territory for greater Kingdom influence.

Worship as Warfare2022-08-13T14:43:34-06:00

Just Sing

The first audio amplifier was unveiled in 1912 by a Yale PhD physics and electricity scientist, Lee de Forest. Since then, the modern world has become increasingly accustomed to overamplification – not only of sound – but practically all media. A restricted group of superstars, with awe-inspiring talents, accompanied by spectacular shows, have dominated our visual and listening bandwidths for over a century. Today it’s difficult to imagine a world without such things as full-room screens, stunningly complex audio systems, and sophisticated, portable, entertainment devices.

In 2003, the LA Times published this lament by performing arts critic Lewis Segal:

…when we do encounter live music, we expect it to match what we accept as the norm: the presence, detail and intensity of recordings. We’ve come to prefer processed music to the real thing.

With all this musical mega-talent at our fingertips, can ordinary Christians with substandard singing voices like mine glorify God satisfactorily?

If you’re fond of statistics, the word translated “sing” appears 400+ times in scripture and 50 of them are commands to sing to God. What attitude should those of us without musical gifts have when we sing? I conjecture that even in our imperfect state, God designed us to sing and intended our singing to have remarkable benefits in our relationship with him. Do we need a four-octave, pitch-perfect voice to obey these commands? Quick answer: No.

Does God ask us to do something he doesn’t do?

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

Let’s go further…did Jesus sing? Scripture records remarkably few examples:

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:30 NIV


…he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Hebrews 2:11-12 ESV

The movie The Greatest Story Ever Told was released in 1965 with Max Von Sydow playing the role of Jesus – what a sad face – and that image is Von Sydow displaying his most cheerful look in the movie. It’s doubtful anyone watching the majority of movies portraying Jesus’ life would envision Jesus singing anything. The exception is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who depicted a singing Jesus in their 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Did that musical change the perception of Jesus to one of a frequent singer? Questionable. Portrayals of Jesus singing are perplexingly rare.

So if you’re an ungifted singer like me, don’t lose heart, Jesus didn’t major in music. Your obedience to the singing commands will be accepted by our gracious God.

You can also anticipate an eternity to glorify him with singing.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 ESV

Today memorize or review a familiar scripture or vital theological theme set to a simple tune. Here are some resources: Psalms set to music and other scriptures set to music. And also remember you have two other reliable avenues of obedience – singing during congregational worship and this verse for those who are truly unable to sing:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Psalms 100:1 ESV

Just Sing2022-08-13T13:59:44-06:00

Singing – A God Designated Pathway to Joy

For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Death of the Son.” A psalm of David.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5)

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:10-15.)

Because singing is the focus of this week’s devotional writing, the four psalms above mention singing and the joy, praise and rejoicing that can result from singing. These are a small sampling of the different reasons for a psalm (facing a situation, or recognizing sin), to whom the psalm was directed (for the director of music) and sometimes particular tunes, (The Death of a Son) or (in some other places in the Psalms) the instruments or voices by which to perform them. What it indicates to me is, that though these psalms can be used for private worship and encouragement, they are intended to be used in corporate worship, also.

I grew up singing hymns and choruses which often came from one or more verses in the Psalms. As I read through the Psalms, I hear in my mind, “Thy Loving Kindness is Better Than Life”, “Create in Me A Clean Heart, O God”, “O God You Are My God”.

I have found that I can memorize verses in scripture easier if they are set to music. Melody and rhythm are aids for instructing me. Perhaps this works for you, too. If you have a hymnal, refresh your mind with some of the hymns you have enjoyed. Or check out some of your favorites on YouTube. One I particularly enjoyed was “Create in Me A Clean Heart, O God”  or country version  by Maranatha Singers.

Singing – A God Designated Pathway to Joy2022-08-13T12:58:59-06:00


Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James… (I Corinthians 15:6-7 ESV)

This week we’ve been looking at the life of James, one of the brothers of Jesus, leader of the early church in Jerusalem, and author of the book of James. We’ve explored what his relationship with Jesus might have been at various times in his life. Here’s a synopsis of Hegesippus, Historia 5, a record of how James died:

During the festival of Passover in 62 AD some of the priestly class, eager to deter the Christian sect from spreading, crowded around James and urged him to denounce Jesus while standing on the parapet of the temple. Instead of denouncing Jesus, James said with a loud voice “Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power and He will come on the clouds of heaven.” As a result of this testimony, some onlookers rejoiced and others placed their faith in Jesus. Seeing their mistake, the priests shoved James to the ground below. When James fell he was still alive, so some stoned him, but the final death blow was administered with a club.

Why did the priests think James might denounce Jesus? It likely was because the priestly class regarded him as a righteous, honest man who would respect their authority. Here are some of James’ urgings to us:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing….Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27 ESV)

How did James have a winsome way with those priests even though they viewed Christianity as a dangerous heresy? Again, James wrote:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

The account of James’ earthly end reminds me that Jesus followers who are kind listeners, gentle helpers and above reproach are not assured protection from persecution by virtue of those character qualities. In fact, just the opposite can occur.

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 ESV)

Maybe it’s the Sunday School exhortations and rewards some of us received as children that make us think we’ll get lots of automatic “likes” for godly behavior. At any rate, it’s false hope to think the world around us is eager to give us kudos for obeying Jesus and giving Him the glory for it.

Take a minute to remind yourself – when you please Jesus with your actions (especially if it seems no one else notices) – rejoice that your reward is great in heaven.

TRUE REWARD2022-05-29T21:17:49-06:00
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